Meet the Crew

I am privileged to share this Journey with a lot of very good, true friends.

During the journey that was the last year and months of Juju’s life, it was our friends and family who came to our aid—from near and far—to buoy us emotionally, spiritually, with care packages, meals, comfort, and uncountable favors that gave us more minutes with Juliet, more minutes to manage the everything. In the months afterwards, and even today, these people and their families continue to be there for us and to anchor us as we make sense of everything and try to move forward.

My fellow Journeyers, listed below, are committed to helping make this program possible. Without each of them—and many other folks behind the scenes—this journey would not be possible. And given that there are quite a few of us en route, and that I tend to tell winding narratives, a little background information will help give stories about the crew some context.

My fellow Journeyers are:

Richard ‘Farfar’ Axebro (Älmhult, Sweden) – I met Richard as an exchange student at the Julius Maximilans Universität in Würzburg, Germany. As the oldest in our troupe of highly-epicurian, soccer-indulging, Lebenskünstler-esque students, and as our quasi-spiritual leader, Richard earned the nickname Farfar (which means grandpa in Swedish). True to form, while Juju was undergoing chemo in Frankfurt, Farfar drove down from Sweden to stay with us to help cover a period in between the months-long stays of our actual grandparents. Richard is the person most likely to go swimming in the Arctic Ocean, if for no other reason than to prove – yet again – that Swedes are not made of sugar. (They aren’t…but this apparently does require frequent, repeated validation) Richard will journey to honor the memory of Juliet while contributing to the fight against childhood cancer.

Eli Carrabino (San Jose, CA) – Pretty much everyone on the trip is going to have a fairly strict size/weight luggage limit…except Eli, who will probably have an accommodation for the tools required to build our way out of pretty much any trouble we face. Before we are all done, I’m sort of expecting him to have a Eureka moment about how the roads can be built better on the permafrost and he’ll probably custom design some unique rigging for our various recording devices along the way. Eli is a veritable neighborhood McGyver, and he is the first of the Cahill Park clan stalwarts, head of an anchor family in one of the most amazing neighborhoods of families I’ve heard anyone describe in modern times. He’s always there with a helping hand, a tool, a truck, and a smile.

Erik Didriksen (Placerville, CA) – By all accounts, Erik appears to be temperamentally impervious to the discomforts of long roadtrips, as 150-mile trips in a car loaded with three kids and a pair of large hounds appears to be the logistical equivalent of me visiting my local burrito bar. He’s a fellow SCUMBAG (Santa Clara MBA Graduate) who allowed himself to be dragged up to the top of Half Dome (to celebrate Shauna’s and my first anniversary) and – no retributive connection in these events at all, really – he’s relatively responsible for my brief hospitalization during his own bachelor party weekend a couple years later (and why I don’t let myself be dragged around behind boats anymore).

‘Sir’ Robin Hart (Sausalito, CA) – Because every proper quest needs a Celtic warrior, right? Long before I actually had met Robin in person, a old friend and former colleague suggested to me, “I bet you’d like Robin.” Spot on. Robin, who lends a Welsh & Scottish lens to life in general, is a fellow traveler in the transfer pricing profession – which we in the accounting world, of course,  know as the sexiest part of Tax.  Inexplicably, Robin appears to be drawn to inhospitable places.  He has been to Antarctica and this is his third trek up into the near-Arctic this year. But we’re fairly confident none of his prior journeys will have been quite like this one!  Robin also has the distinction of having – quite literally – the most to lose if we can persuade him to shave his head under the St. BALDrick’s credo (feel free to try to encourage this in our Challenge Donations section).

Dan ‘Hata Chocolate’  Hata (San Jose, CA) – Not too long ago, Dan confided in me…“You know, I find it hard to say ‘No’ to you.”  In other related news, Dan, another Cahill Park comrade, will also be making the Journey.  Since accepting the challenge he’s been preparing daily with Crossfit to single-handedly lift a vehicle – with us still inside – in the event we get stuck off-road…and has been running half marathons to avoid being the guy most likely to be caught by a bear should we be startled in the woods.  And those glasses and/or biceps may/may not actually be his.  Mellow, bearer of “Hata Chocolate” – a personalized, toasty winter beverage, and well under 6’ tall, he’s probably destined for a lot of time in a back seat…  While Dan hopes to conquer his fears of the cold and being confined over long distances in small, transparent spaces juxtaposed against wide-open places, he journeys in remembrance of Juju and to connect with Mark and other dads in hopes of making a difference and bringing to this cause.

John Keefe (El Dorado Hills, CA) –  Another lifetime member of the Cahill Park Clan, John is probably the person to most likely pull over in the middle of a riverside leg to go fishing. Doting wife Nicole has noted his prescient proclivity to precede bouts of roadtrip flatulence by innocuously locking the automatic windows as lying somewhere between clever and uncanny…this may or may not be helpful when we ‘pick teams’ for who is paired on up whichever vehicles for the longer legs.  John has history working with providers of genetic testing equipment used for oncology and his memories of (too often unsuccessful) efforts to help other children, as well as thoughts of Juju playing with his boys, to gird his resolve the make the Journey happen and be a success.

Phil Michael (San Francisco, CA) – Aka ‘The guy downstairs,’ Phil literally is my father’s former downstairs neighbor.  It’s a complicated story, but Phil (and better-half Nicole) also helped us land much more gracefully with a place to stay before our rental was ready (including before Helena and I returned from Germany), with their sweet boys playing with Juliet when she was able to do so. This will actually be my second latitudinally divergent excursion with Phil, having previously travelled together in Cape Town (where we hiked Table Mountain). Another of the core technology contributors and early cultivator of cool ideas for the Journey, it’s hard to imagine how some of what you are reading would have come together without his assistance, calming support, and steady stream of messages on Slack.

Maria ‘Pantoffelkeks’  Pantoja (San Jose, CA) – Yes, that’s right…there is at least one woman along for the whole Journey. To Juju, she was Crazy Maria. Ditto for a lot of other people… Maria danced an amazing salsa at Shauna’s and my wedding, and her array of eclectic and occasionally dangerous interests (she’s genuinely disappointed we won’t be camping up in the ice-bound arctic so she can bring along her serious winter gear) is balanced by her dangerously sweet heart. Did I mention she also has the ultimate roadtrip iPod with 15,000 songs and makes a venomous sangria. She’s pretty much the only woman that we can think of who would actually want to spend this much ‘quality’ time in stinky cars with all of these (equally? stinky) guys, whom all of our spouses also approve of ;-).

‘Crazy Uncle’  Dave Phillips (San Jose, CA) –  My former next-door neighbor from Cahill Park, known by my girls as ‘Crazy Uncle Dave.’ (To whom, in return, I am known by his twins as ‘Crazy Uncle Mark,’ or as my fictitious and far more eccentric, globetrotting, more handsome and taller twin brother, ‘Mack’). Back in the day, our four girls were so close they were often seemingly shuffled randomly between our homes. A soccer buddy on both outdoor and indoor teams over the years and the kind of steadfast friend who stuck it out to help with last minute touch-up painting of our house until the early morning hours on our last, last day before we moved to Germany (aka, emptying wine bottles that couldn’t go into long-term storage) and had dramatic, clutch moments in taking care of my girls over the years.

Rick ‘Tank’  Tankersly (Anchorage, AK) – Tank is the only member of the crew I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting in person. He’s an Alaskan who has been enormously helpful in getting and keeping us going with local insights, photography for the website (tough to post pics of Alaska before we get there…) and a lot of important technical details (from GPS service providers to how to pack a backpack to stay alive after falling into an icy river). When asked about the best way to get to Barrow, his immediate answer was, “By dogsled…but that’s most fun in winter.” Our kind of guy, but it’s increasingly obvious that the most appropriate way is ‘by tank…’

Russ ‘Crust’  Wagner (Woodstock, GA) – A guy I met on the first day at a new job, over 20 years ago. Over the years, he spent a decade working deep undercover (as just being a CPA was inadequately incognito), developing crucial (for our program) web skills for a thriving online business, and he is an advocate of international cultural exchange in sub-sub-suburban Georgia. Crust is also the most likely crew-member to become romantically involved with an Alaskan native along the Journey and never leave the epic beauty of “Seward’s Folly”. Shortly after Juliet met Crust, she snuck up behind him, playfully spanked him on the butt, and then giggled hysterically. She’d be very happy to know he is headed to Barrow, and I seriously have no idea how this thing would have been possible without his tireless and unparalleled efforts. Russ is on the Journey to honor our wonderful little girl, an old friendship, and because of the great challenge of making this even greater thing happen.

Matt ‘Maddog’  Wascher – I met Matt while interviewing to move from Georgia to California, and he’s probably the best thing that I walked away from after that relatively controversial weekend. We were each other’s best men in our weddings and despite Matt leaving the Bay Area, we’ve remained very close, visit when we can, and Matt continues to plot how we can convince us to relocate to the Rocky Mountain state. For the Journey, Matt is pleased that – so far as he knows – he won’t be required to parade around all-day in a Superman costume and tights (like at his bachelor party). The crew are also hoping Matt will bring along his invisible childhood friend, Freddy, who will help keep us safe from polar bears (and thankfully doesn’t take up either too much cabin or luggage space). Matt is enthusiastically excited to be part of this Alaskan journey, to support our sweet little girl, to be there with us (for me), and for all of the good it will bring in getting that much closer to a cure.

Base Camp

In any great mission, there are invariably a couple completely amazing people that proverbially get left behind in the van.  Our mission is no different, and our Journey would have been completely impossible but for their clutch support at key moments (and along the way):

James ‘Jameson J’ Baker (Kalispell, MT) –  Our little Cousin James (actually a lot bigger than us…and for sure the only person I know who has a forehead bigger than mine) is – simply put – a fan favorite of our girls.  Helena has worked assiduously to rebrand him as Jameson J, and we’ve repeatedly attempted to persuade him to move to California. Alas, to no avail. Jameson J is tackling a variety of logistical issues for us – in particular as the purveyor of Juju’s Journey-branded apparel – and will probably be one of your correspondents if you email us during the Journey.  Ask him to help broker Robin’s haircut!

Alex Harper (San Jose, CA) – I’ve known Alex since   High School, so in other words, he’s been stuck with me the longest. Twenty years ago, we even road-tripped from SF to Seattle together (although certainly not in a mere 24 hours!). At the time, when we decided the conditions under which we would be willing to undertake this route again, this was not exactly what we had in mind. We were in Model UN together, we are fraternity brothers…he won’t admit it, but I’m convinced he followed me here from Texas, all so that he can go shopping with me at Ikea regularly and listen to me practice my mockery of a Swedish accent. It goes without saying that Alex probably has some of the best (i.e., most embarrassing) stories about me. Alex has been a central voice of reason in the Journey planning, and in trying to keep me/us alive during it, and he’ll continue to do so figuratively from the control room in the van…because someone has to keep us going!

Shauna Hyde (Belmont, CA) – They say that behind every great man is greater woman, or so I think the dictum is supposed to go.  As I’m none too confident I qualify as the former, I’m certainly grateful and happy to have her by my side as the latter!  Shauna is Juliet’s mama (and Helena’s, too) , which is pretty much the greatest calling I can think of. To the chagrin of all the Crew, Shauna genuinely dislikes long roadtrips, being cold, being caught in the rain, enduring long stretches without restaurants serving bodacious, fresh salads, and being subjected to most of my roadtrip music… Thus, she’ll be bringing grace to conduct of events in the metaphorical support van and meeting us at the hopefully far less metaphorical finish line.

Jonathan Knight (Belmont, CA) – Bringing directorial credits to Juju’s Journey is Jonathan Knight, a local Belmont friend who lent his stage expertise — to say nothing of his superior whiteboarding graphics skills and a staunch hold-flimsy-cue-card-in-the-wind ability — to our startup videos.  The Knights have been big supporters and I particularly appreciated his compassion while we worked through the emotions of spending most of a day back at UCSF Benioff (especially when we were back on the pediatric unit wing).  And yes, he is the guy who is “Not Mark” in the intro video.

Ursula ‘Ursi’ Marren (San Jose, CA) – Swiss with a distinctly British accent, Ursi is one of my Germanophone anchors as I struggle to keep my fluency from ebbing away.  A total volunteer and actually a professional in philanthropy, at one point in the process, Ursi stood up, grabbed a marker and gradually covered the walls of our house with easel-sized sheets of planning ideas.  In fairness, she had also seen my handwriting.  At a daunting moment, Ursi stepped in to keep the Journey going.

Steve ‘Muktuk’  Walker (Hayward, CA) – Steve’s goal in life is to become the world’s fastest couch potato. In pursuit of this goal, he can be found most weekends on road rallies involving large numbers of high-performance sports cars. I’ve spent almost two decades trying to slowly turn Steve into a ‘hugger,’ and it’s been well worth the effort. Steve (and Übermenschling better-half Rhonda, another of my SCUMBAG compadres, and how I met Steve) have been one of our lifelines while we were abroad, as we moved home for Juju’s treatment, and lately as bearers of very fancily-decorated homemade cakes. To support the cause, although Steve will not journey to wherever the road ends, he’s been a huge supporter along the way and will be taking support calls and fielding SOS’s from back in the van.